There’s no telling when the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis will end, but what is more predictable is that employees will be affected for a long time after.
It’s expected that more than one million Australians could lose their jobs as the situation worsens, and that’s not including those who continue to work with reduced hours or in impacted work environments.
While certain professionals including caregivers, medical staff, retail and hospitality workers are able to remain employed, they put their health on the line by doing so.
On the other hand, there are stood down workers facing economic insecurity who perceive the right to work during this crisis as a privilege.
To gain perspective on how different industries are affected by COVID-19, we spoke to five Australian women whose jobs have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus and how they’re navigating such uncertain times.
Jennifer* – Wedding photographer
Jennifer had been working as a wedding photographer for seven years before her job was affected by COVID-19, when initial lockdowns began in March.
“I had a wedding coming up on the weekend, and I was wondering if I should wear a mask the whole time I’m working. And even then, if it was too risky. Then they banned gatherings of 100 people and the bride emailed me saying ‘the government cancelled my wedding’. Then I got two or three more emails on the same day saying they also had to cancel.”
Jennifer expects the impacts of lockdown laws will affect the wedding industry for months to come.
“I don’t know if people are going to propose to each other anymore,” she said. “Proposing in lockdown, in your own house? How would you even organise getting a ring?”
But Jennifer also said she thinks there will be a huge number of weddings at once, after restrictions are lifted.
Until then, she is relying on Centrelink to pay the bills.
“I’d never considered going on [unemployment benefits] before this situation. It made me rethink how much I value money; how much money is important to me.
“I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable for not having a job. It makes me want to become more self-sustainable. Why should we need to go to work just to eat food or get water or a roof over our heads? It’s a human right to be able to have basic needs met.”
Emily – Bartender
Emily has been working in hospitality in Melbourne and Perth for years but had only been in her current job for a month when she was stood down.
“It was starting to get a little worrying,” she said when describing the days right before lockdown came into effect.
“Some nights, tonnes of people would come in [to the bar] who clearly didn’t care. There was a real sense of you don’t know where people have been or if they’ve been paying attention.
“Lockdown is definitely for the best. It would have gotten to a point where I’d consider leaving anyway.”
Emily is now also relying on the government for financial assistance.
“I quit my previous job mid-January and got straight on Centrelink after that because I wasn’t sure how fast I’d get a new job,” said Emily.
“I was already on it [unemployment benefits] when things fell apart. I do feel a little bit guilty that I’ve seemed to have come out of this okay. Considering they’ll up Centrelink soon, I’m actually more financially well off than I was before.”
Emily expects to go back to bartending once venues reopen. In the meantime, she’s spending time on her artistic pursuits, which include sewing clothes and sculptural work.
“This is a great opportunity for creatives to set up small businesses, start making things,” she said.
Emily also sees the crisis as a chance to foster support among hospitality workers.
“There are places still open that are doing real solid efforts to keep their staff safe. I’ve seen some amazing stuff coming out of smaller venues and the community in general. They’re really trying to look after each other.”
Olivia* – Make-up artist
Olivia has been a make-up artist for about seven years. Given the hands-on nature of the job, it was to be expected that Olivia’s job would be greatly affected by the coronavirus crisis.
“There wasn’t one part of my work that wasn’t touched by this,” she said.
After no-contact policies were put into place, Olivia could no longer do make-up and was moved into a retail sales position.
“I struggled to deal with people who had a strong disregard for the crisis on a daily basis, so I put my annual leave, which I was fortunate to have, into effect immediately,” she said.
Since then, Olivia learned she was officially stood down from her job and has turned to Centrelink and tighter budgeting to compensate.
“I really just have to live a more frugal life. Not having access to bars will make saving money easier, but I just have to be careful from here on,” she said.
“I have had a lot of thoughts about changing my career after this crisis. I just haven’t felt the support I need from my industry.”
While most beauty services are now banned after Stage 3 restrictions were announced, Olivia and her co-workers were considered ‘essential workers’ long after most offices closed. Retail services are still open, continuing to put staff at risk.
“To be honest, I’ve always felt the tension between those who can work from home and those who can’t. Working from home gives people the health protection they need,” she said.
“In retail, I think we deserve remunerations for the emotional labour and physical dangers we face daily dealing with a crisis like this.
“I think if the government is labelling us as ‘essential workers’, then we need the support to carry on being ‘essential’.”
Lucy – Cook
Lucy is a cook and hospitality professional who has been working in the industry for 10 years, including 6 years in Melbourne.
“Earlier in the virus’ development, we had to restrict seating and my shifts were cut to half. Since takeaway at my workplace is only a two-person job (one person making coffee and one person cooking), I have lost my job for now,” she said.
Even before COVID-19 took hold, Lucy knew that choosing hospitality as a career came with risks.
“It’s a very hard industry to create stability in, but I’d rather be happy and inconsistent in life than unhappy and financially stable,” she said.
To combat the financial loss she’s currently experiencing, Lucy is accessing Centrelink and discussing rent reduction with her landlord.
“I will always have a job waiting for me when the lockdown is lifted, so I’m trying not to worry about it too much,” she said.
While she is confident in her own job security, Lucy recognises that others cannot say the same.
“I think the repercussions will be quite dramatic. Some businesses will opt to close down and when lockdown is lifted, there will be less jobs for hospitality professionals. However, the support in the hospitality community never ceases to amaze me, so who knows.
“Customers that are still working can also help by supporting whatever ways businesses have been savvy enough to adapt to this change, such as offering takeaway.
“I have found it very frustrating to see people complain about still having to work on social media.”
Sofia – Journalist
“I was a regular contributor to food and travel publications including newspapers and in-flight magazines,” said Sofia, who describes her situation as a quick transition from “doing quite well” to “funemployed”.
“For the first couple of weeks, I was quite inundated with a high workload – trying to talk about what was happening in the industry, making sure people knew what was going on, how hospitality was pivoting to stay afloat, so there was lots of room for coverage there,” she said.
“But ultimately, because you can’t travel or dine out, and advertisers have pulled their budget back, regular columns, restaurant openings and restaurant reviews have been put on hold until further notice.”
Sofia recognises that despite publications’ best efforts, this fate is difficult to avoid considering the situation.
“I don’t want to make them sound evil; it’s an extremely hard phone call for an editor to make. Everyone is struggling. They’re on skeleton staff,” she said.
Sofia acknowledges that freelancing can be unstable at the best of times, but she’s finding comfort in solidarity.
“Knowing everyone’s on the same page – that there’s nothing you can do unless you upskill – there’s something reassuring about that,” she said.
Looking ahead, Sofia anticipates an industry shift once everything picks up again.
“The traditional media landscape may not change that much, but it may broaden to include new platforms, new publications, new ways of broadcasting the news,” she said.
Sofia thinks “travel will slump for a long time,” but she believes it will pick up rapidly once bans on movement are fully lifted.
“People will want to escape what their reality has been… I truly believe people need something to look forward to. When we can travel again, that’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.